Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) is leaving the Senate to take over the Heritage Foundation. He will replace Ed Feulner as the conservative think tank’s president. He expressed no qualms about leaving the Senate before his term is up, nor did he reflect on his legislative achievements, of which none come to mind.
Let me first explain why this is very bad indeed for Heritage. Even DeMint would not claim to be a serious scholar. He is a pol. He’s a pol whose entire style of conservatism — all or nothing, no compromise, no accounting for changes in public habits and opinions — is not true to the tradition of Edmund Burke, Russell Kirk and others. By embracing him, Heritage, to a greater extent than ever before, becomes a political instrument in service of extremism, not a well-respected think tank and source of scholarship. Every individual who works there should take pause and consider whether the reputation of that institution is elevated or diminished by this move. And I would say the same, frankly, if any other non-scholarly pol took that spot.
In truth, Heritage’s Action Network has become among the most screechy in the all-or-nothing brand of politics, challenging all but extreme right-wingers and calling virtually all possible compromises a “cave.” While the Foundation is separate from the political arm, the appearance to the public is one of untempered extremism.
Now for the U.S. Senate, I am sure many senators on both sides are clicking their heels. DeMint has been a destructive force, threatening to primary colleagues, resisting all deals and offering very little in the way of attainable legislation. He has contributed more than any current senator to the dysfunction of that body. He has worsened relations between the House and Senate, as he did in the budget fights in recent years, by meddling and pressuring his home state representative. His departure leaves other senators who seemed impressed with his brand of politics free to find their way to a more constructive position in the body.
Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) was duly gracious in his statement: “I thank Senator DeMint for his uncompromising service to South Carolina and our country in the United States Senate. Jim helped provide a powerful voice for conservative ideals in a town where those principles are too often hidden beneath business as usual. There is no question in my mind that he raised the profile of important issues like spending and debt and helped galvanize the American people against a big government agenda. I am confident that he will continue to advocate for conservative principles in the next chapter of his service to the American people.” It is a telling comment for what it does not say. It does not say the Senate was a better place because of his service or that he helped enact a conservative agenda. McConnell is a honest man and would not say such untruths.